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Marijuana anxiety? Here’s what to do if you have a panic attack while high

While many find weed a relaxing drug, marijuanaВ alsoВ has a direct connectionВ to panic attacks. Even aВ habitual smoker who seems the very definition of “chill” has likely had the experienceВ of being way too high, man. В

In the moment, that can be overwhelming. But it’sВ not the end of the world. Here’s what you need to know aboutВ theВ scary, stressfulВ and sometimes overwhelming problemВ of weed-induced panic.

Can weed causeВ panic attacks?

“It can,” said Ryan Vandrey, whoВ studiesВ the behavioral pharmacology of cannabis useВ atВ Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine,В in a phone interview. “It happens from direct effects of the drug inВ the brain and/or direct effects of the drug on body.”В

“Cannabis can modulate neurotransmitters in parts of the brain that control anxiety and elevateВ yourВ heart rate,” which can in turn create a sense of escalating panic, he explained.

Recognizing the panic attack for what it is

AВ wide variety of physiological effectsВ fall under the umbrella term “panic attack,” though Vandrey cautioned that they’re specific to each person, andВ none can be considered “typical.”

ThereВ “hasn’t been a lot of research focused exclusively” on the signs ofВ weed-related panic, Vandrey said. “The important thing to note is that it’s dose-related. You see greater exacerbation of heart rate at higher doses. And it’s more likely to occur in individuals who already deal with anxiety issues or have a predisposition to or familyВ history ofВ them.”

That said, people whoВ experienceВ panic attacks have reportedВ symptoms including, but by no means restricted to:

• Racing heartbeat

• Tunnel vision

• Sweat or chills

• Chest pains

• Tingling or numbness in the extremitiesВ

• Weakness and dizziness

• Trouble breathing

These areВ someВ potential results of aВ “flight-or-fight” response, which is triggered by the brain’s hypothalamus when you instinctuallyВ detect a threat — either real or imagined. Your wholeВ body is placed on high alert, and fear of impending death or doom is palpable.В

What to do when you know you’re panicking

The key thing to rememberВ is that a panic attack can’t hurt you. Contrary to what some of the above symptoms may suggest, you’re likelyВ not suffering aВ heart attack or obstructed airway.

There’s also zeroВ chance you’veВ “overdosed”В on weed. Remind yourself that this condition is not lasting but temporary. In due course, it will all be over.В

The experienceВ “usually doesn’tВ lastВ that long,” Vandrey said,В perhaps “half hour or an hour, dependingВ on how the cannabisВ was ingested — shorter if inhaled, longer if eaten.”В В

“It all depends on the individual,” he said.В “None of it is applicable to everybody.” В

Take stock of your situation and surroundings

For many, weed-based anxiety involves a hefty dose of paranoia about other people. Because marijuana is a drug enjoyed in social settings, getting too stoned can lead to suspicions that your own friends resent you, or that you’re somehow “ruining” their good time.

“Research has shown that individual responses to a given drug can absolutely be influenced by the situation in which it occurs,” Vandrey said. “If somebody takes a drug that produces anxiety in uncomfortable surroundings, they may heighten their anxiety.В Cannabis is a perfect example.”

If environmental factors are contributing to your fear or stress, removing yourself from that context can help.

Ask for help

Resist the idea that anyone hates you for obscure reasons of your own invention. The truth is that anyoneВ not in the throes ofВ panicВ can assure you that your symptoms are exaggerated, impermanentВ and not life-threatening, which is a huge advantage when your mind is playing tricks on you.

A companion is also handy to haveВ when it comes to limiting environmental stressors, and canВ address any simple and immediate needs.

“There’s no one way to treat this,” Vandrey said. “When it does happen in our lab we respond to the needs of the individual. We encourage people to get comfortable and provide them with whatever they need — whetherВ that’sВ food, or water, or sometimes just to close their eyes, lie down and relax.”

Give yourself a break

As a panic attack releases its grip, you mayВ feel a little sheepish or outright embarrassed about what you did or saidВ whenВ it took hold. “Why did I freak out like that?” you’ll ask yourself.В

Despite popular conceptions of such episodes, Vandrey said they’re “notВ common at all.”В They’reВ especially unusualВ for “frequent, experienced” users:В “It rarely happens, and usually only after very high doses.”В

And while limiting your intake or indulging in a more comfortable environmentВ may prevent a repeat occurrence in the future, the best way to avoid a weed-related panic attack “is is to not use cannabis at all.”В

In other words, this is a risk everyone runs with weed — but, Vandrey said, a “subset of people” are particularly vulnerable to it. So while someВ stoners can laugh about the times they tipped over the edge into full-blown paranoia and horror,В treating it likeВ a rite of passage, others will find that they’re better off not gambling with their neurochemistry this way.В В

In any case, rest assured that a weed-induced panic attack is not going on your permanent record, and will soon be forgotten by whoever happened to witness it. The only judgment you face is your own.

Figure out what went wrong

As we’ve discussed, “situational” factors are important determinants in matters of substance abuse and addiction, and anyone fond ofВ weed will tell you that theВ effectsВ are similarly contingent on your surroundings: Where were you? Who were you with?В

And, maybe above all:В What was your frame ofВ mind?

AnyВ such detailВ could have contributed toВ your panic attack, and after it’s over, it’s worth considering whether they did — particularly if this was an isolated incident. You might choose toВ swear offВ potentВ marijuana strains with high levels of THC, the cannabinoid responsible for weed’s psychoactiveВ “high,” or pick the time and place of your weed use more carefully. Strictly limiting the size of your doses is an even better idea.

But, as Vandrey pointed out, none of thisВ is a guarantee against another panic attack. And if theВ oneВ you hadВ fits into a larger pattern of recurrent behavior, then seeking a doctor’s opinion on the nature of your anxiety is the smart move. Even if you think you’reВ self-medicating yourВ anxiety with marijuana, you could be doing more harm than good.В

“CannabisВ I don’t think is any different thanВ anyВ other drug that can produce anxiety,” Vandrey said — and there are many drugsВ that can. So don’t let weed’s chill reputation fool you:В As with any prescription you pick up at the pharmacy, it’s essential to be informed of possible adverse effects.В

While many find weed a relaxing drug, marijuana also has a direct connection to panic attacks. Even a habitual smoker who seems the very definition of "chill" has likely had the experience of being way too high, man.  In the moment, that can be…

First Time Smoking Pot

I am not the type to define my life off the drugs I’ve taken, or the experiences I’ve had with them. I won’t ever clap when a comedian brings up marijuana, or talk about how much I smoke. I am thankful for having tried marijuana, along with a very long list of other illegal substances, but I would never condone use. Drugs are, after all, a gamble, and marijuana is comparable to the cheap slot machines. If you have money and are responsible, you probably don’t have much to worry about, you do not need to go onto more risky bets, and you will likely not necessarily want to spend money gambling again.

I was 12 when I had my first hit. The first time was out of a filtered cigarette and far too little to do anything. Several other bad attempts later, I tried using a pipe. Though I could inhale smoke, I still did not get a high. Each failed attempt was out of sheer opportunity, with friends who had not smoked prior. Finally came the day when two particularly close friends who had recently picked up smoking invited me to join. The one who smoked more frequent of the two invited me his house on a Friday night. His parents were separated – his mother having a serious drug problem and close relations to mafia-esc members; his father being a bipolar pill addict. At the time I just knew his mother as the cool mom who fuels her 12 year old son’s marijuana and fast food habits, and his father as being someone out of the house a lot. My other friend had an older brother addicted to mixing strong codeines and alcohol. At the time I just knew him as having a kind, neurotic family. I have no history of addiction in my family that I know of (till today).

The immediate effects were fairly standard for someone’s first time smoking. A very large hit led to a lot of coughing and an extremely soar throat. I quickly forget about the pain in my chest and started experiencing what I can only refer to as “cinema vision.” Essentially it is similar to tunnel vision, and like looking at life through a fish eye lens. It is accompanied by contradictory feelings of greater clarity while seeing things in frames. My short term memory was very shot, so I was unable to recall things I had just said, and felt like I had amnesia every few seconds. My friends had smoked several times prior so they knew the effects. The three of us hysterically laughed most of the time, none of us remotely paranoid even after my friend’s father had come home. There was a great feeling of release throughout the experience. The friend whose house I was at would get extremely wrapped up in the CDs we listened to, especially “Lateralus” by Tool. The other got very hyper and would bounce around each room, exploring every part of each room and constantly finding something else to play with or be baffled by.

The three of us are still friends, though not the closest. We offer an insane spectrum of the gamble drugs give. The friend whose house I was at got wrapped up in dealing and taking drugs. He was constantly dry rolling and has probably tried every substance imaginable, since they were all around. One incident led psychiatrists to think he was schizophrenic for nearly three weeks, until he finally came down off an insane cocktail I will not give the recipe for. For two years I thought he was dead after being stabbed in the neck, only to find out he had been sent to a very strict rehab in another state (his fourth). He claims the day we smoked together to be the day he realized he would be hooked on drugs, and that he saw me and the other friend go to one place and himself go somewhere completely different. Of course his chances of taking drugs in moderation will always be low when he is surrounded by abusers, as he unfortunately still is. He is not an example of the greatest loss possible, since he still managed to bounce back after years of rehabilitation and has a job and home. The other friend’s father became very ill a few years after our first time smoking. He self medicated his emotional instability with marijuana and psilocybin mushrooms, which certainly did not help. Our first year of high school, his father died. After months of mourning, my friend decided to take mushrooms while on vacation with his family. I do not know what happened during that incident, but he believes he found God through it. He did not take any drug, have a sip of alcohol, or have a puff of a hookah or cigarette since. He currently is studying in a prestigious Christian college to become a church minister.

I love stressing the difference outcomes of me and my friends since that night. The night itself was substantial because I did have a different sense of perception then-on. It did not immediately lead to picking up philosophy, and eventually the sciences, but helped me realize the instability of our world. Ultimately, you can only learn through yourself. To me, it is not about what the messenger is trying to relay but what the receiver gets out of it. I do not think marijuana was a gateway drug for myself, but others will quickly jump to the conclusion that it has to do with me later drinking and taking other substances. Drugs fueled some of my happiest and saddest moments, but most people think I have never used an illegal substance, or better yet, only did in Amsterdam and did not like it. I see myself as the balance between the two friends I started smoking with since I am a great student, have a clean record, and have still never had a psychological or physical addiction. There is the possibility I am an instigator who tempts friends to think they can take drugs responsibly, but I would never tell someone to use a substance. Balance is something many find hard to achieve.

I am not the type to define my life off the drugs I’ve taken, or the experiences I’ve had with them.